Owners: Closure of Ann & Hope all about COVID

Owners: Closure of Ann & Hope all about COVID

The Ann & Hope outlet in Cumberland is one of 11 set to close as the company prepares to close its doors for good. (Breeze photo by Ethan Shorey)
What’s next for Cumberland mill?

CUMBERLAND – First Building #19, then Benny’s, now Ann & Hope.

More than one observer stated this week that perhaps the Chase family shouldn’t have shared its secrets with Walmart decades ago, but owners of landmark retailer Ann & Hope say the planned closure of their 11 stories was not a thought prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In fact, they said, it hadn’t yet been decided for sure when a representative from the store declared two weeks ago that the chain would remain open.

The Breeze was first to report Monday on the plans to close all 11 outlet stores, with no chance of revival, according to the owners.

Ron Dore, corporate vice president at Ann & Hope, told The Breeze that the plan to close the curtain and bath outlets hadn’t been in the works prior to COVID.

“It really did take a worldwide pandemic to take down Ann & Hope,” he said.

The shutdowns were far more impactful at Massachusetts stores, he said.

“We really got devastated with the store closings, particularly with our Massachusetts ones not opening until June 8,” he said. “Being closed for two months really put us in a tough position.”

As of two weeks ago, a representative from the chain was saying that only three Massachusetts stores would be closing and eight would remain open.

Still up for discussion, Dore said, is whether Ann & Hope’s garden centers will stay open long-term. He said that decision will need quite a bit of time for an in-depth evaluation.

As for the industrial-era Cumberland mill that the town’s Ann & Hope branch occupied a small portion of, its future is also undecided, said Dore, though it remains up for sale.

A listing for the 1886 mill property, covering nearly 500,000 square feet of space on 15 acres, shows it’s for sale at $4.8 million. It states that the riverfront property is ideal for residential, commercial or storage redevelopment.

As for whether employees have known that a closure was in the works, Dore said there was quite a bit of speculation as inventory was being sold off, but the whispers were occurring before any decisions had been made. He said there were more than 200 employees on the payroll prior to the pandemic shutdown.

Ann & Hope has been privileged to employ many long-term dedicated people, said Dore, particularly at its Cumberland and Warwick locations, and every effort will be made to help them transition to jobs with new companies.

Company executives announced the closure plan to employees during a meeting Monday morning. They said this is not a bankruptcy.

A store closing sale is expected to begin on July 9 and each of the 11 outlet stores in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut are expected to close by the end of the summer.

"Due to the significant economic impact brought on by the unprecedented COVID-19 public health crisis, Ann & Hope has made the difficult decision to permanently cease its Curtain & Bath Outlet operations across New England over the next three to four months," the company’s founding family, the Chases, announced in a release Monday.

Known as “the first department store in America” with a discount self-service model tied to the rise of major retailers, Ann & Hope was founded in 1953. Prior to starting their own businesses, Walmart founder Sam Walton and Kmart’s Harry Cunningham each came to Rhode Island to study Ann & Hope’s pioneering discount department store concept. In its heyday, Ann & Hope employed 3,000 associates across Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

Numerous Rhode Islanders this week recounted the memories they had in the store, some of purchases they had made and others of experiences in their first high school job.

“This was an exceedingly difficult decision, but after carefully looking at all of our available options, it became apparent that it was inevitable,” said Dore in a statement. “The unprecedented economic uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 public health crisis, combined with more consumers gravitating toward online shopping alternatives, has created a retail environment that is simply no longer sustainable for many locally owned businesses like ours.”

“We are tremendously proud of everything we have been able to accomplish in Rhode Island and across southern New England since our founding in 1953,” Dore added. “We want to express our sincere gratitude to each of our associates, whose day-to-day dedication to making the shopping experience special for our millions of customers over the years has helped build Ann & Hope into the unique company we will always be proud of and always remember.”